The union representing nearly 2,000 Hartford and New Haven building cleaners announced Wednesday night that it had reached a tentative, four-year labor deal with a cleaning contractors association, averting a possible strike next week.
The agreement between the Services Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, and the Hartford Area Cleaning Contractors Association, came on the final day of scheduled negotiations and three days before the workers' labor contract was set to expire.
Union members still need to ratify the agreement. A vote is expected in January, said union spokeswoman Maia Davis, who anticipates the agreement will ultimately be approved.
Details of the deal were not released, but Davis confirmed that the minimum hourly pay will increase in each of the four years,
from the current rates of $11 in New Haven, $13.50 in downtown Hartford and $12.25 in suburban Hartford. Many of the workers are part-time employees.
"This agreement will help 2,000 hardworking men and women better support their families, which will contribute to our state's future economic growth," said Kurt Westby, the Connecticut state director for Local 32BJ.
Earlier in the day, Westby said some progress had been made in the closed-door talks, but not enough on wages.
"We're stuck in poverty. In fact, we're moving backwards," he said.
Talks began in mid-November, but union members voted last week to allow their bargaining committee to call a strike, if necessary.
The earliest they could have gone out on strike, given the New Year's Day holiday, was Jan. 3.
James Canavan, a spokesman for the association of cleaning companies, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, members of the state's congressional delegation and others had urged both sides to reach a deal, saying a strike would be devastating to the workers and to the state's economy.
Gabriel Acosta, a 44-year-old immigrant from Columbia who works at a Hartford insurance building, said he didn't want to go out on strike but felt he and the other workers are deserving of a raise.
He earns $13.80 an hour.
"I only ask for good wages and to continue with the benefits," he said. "I don't want to go for a strike. I understand the situation is very hard for the companies but it's very hard for the workers, too."
Maria Ruiz of Hartford, who cleans the state Capitol complex, said she and her co-workers had not had a pay increase in about six years. She earns $15.98 an hour. She said they wanted a pay raise.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was among the state officials urging both sides to reach an agreement and avoid a strike.
"These folks are struggling to stay in their homes, to keep their families together and struggling to make ends meet. They don't have a cushion. They're living right on the economic edges,"
Blumenthal said following a meeting at the union offices with members on Wednesday evening.
The workers are responsible for cleaning some key buildings in Hartford and New Haven, including the state Capitol, the Travelers Tower and the Old State House in Hartford, and New Haven City Hall.
They also clean Wesleyan University in Middletown.
Last week, SEIU, Local 32BJ reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract affecting more than 3,300 commercial office workers in Fairfield County and in Hudson Valley, N.Y. They received an average yearly wage increase of three percent, according to the union. Cleaners at the University of Connecticut, Norwalk Community College, Fairfield University and office buildings in Stamford are covered under that agreement.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.